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L.A. City Council weighs limits on cellphone transmitters

Lawmakers vote to include tougher language in a proposed update of L.A.'s measure on telecommunications facilities.

September 12, 2012|By Catherine Saillant, Los Angeles Times
  • Workers finish a cellphone tower in Sherman Oaks that drew neighbors' protests. The City Council is studying tighter requirements on placing wireless transmitters on utility poles.
Workers finish a cellphone tower in Sherman Oaks that drew neighbors'… (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times )

Cellphone providers would have to apply for a permit to place wireless transmitters atop utility poles on sidewalks, roadways and other locations in the public right of way under language adopted Tuesday by the Los Angeles City Council.

Under federal law, cities have limited authority to regulate where a transmitter is located as long as it's in a public right of way. In the past, Los Angeles officials have interpreted this to mean that wireless providers don't need a permit to place their structures atop utility and light poles.

After a slew of complaints about unsightly structures popping up in neighborhoods, city officials are reconsidering that stance. City attorneys say recent court decisions have come down in favor of municipalities' ability to impose stricter aesthetic requirements on wireless providers.

The city can also drop a no-permit exemption for boxes on utility poles, said Managing Assistant City Atty. Edward Jordan. That means that providers would have to apply for permission and also notify neighbors of their intent, Jordan said.

Council members voted unanimously to include the tougher language in the proposed update to the city's law governing telecommunications facilities. The amended ordinance is expected to return to the council in coming weeks.

Karen Dawn, a Pacific Palisades resident, worries that the changes will come too late. She says she bought a home in 2005 and a few months later Cingular (now AT&T) put up an "ugly" wireless transmitter on the sidewalk outside her front gate.

The writer hired a lawyer and spent $10,000 in an attempt to get rid of it, to no avail. She said she looks out at the transmitter box from her upstairs bedroom.

Wireless providers say that they want to work with the city and its various communities. But they will be closely monitoring amendments to make sure the law doesn't impede their ability to upgrade networks, said Lane Kasselman, an AT&T spokesman.

"There's an incredible need to provide the best service for our customers," Kasselman said. "We're working hard to keep up with that demand."

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